Monday, January 31, 2011

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

I should apologize for the last post. I won't, but I thought I should mention that I know I should. Conspiracy theories generally trigger my gag reflex, and "English is an International Conspiracy" is no exception.

But in any case, I'm about to quote myself, which demonstrates how authoritative this blog is: I don't quote just anyone, you know!
Our target demographic is relatively small, educated, and (incidentally) westernized.

Or more specifically, these people know at least some English. Shouldn't we use that?

Some auxlangs do--they have a fair amount of English vocabulary. But even then there's generally a negative attitude: Watch out, folks! It's English, so get out your hazmat suits!

Not a good sign.

More sincere efforts generally involve making English easier to learn by starting with a simplified version: Basic English, Globish, and various types of spelling reform.

But none of this addresses the fundamental problems of mastering English--the synonyms ("big" or "large"?), the idiomatic use of prepositions (not just an English issue), hard-to-pronounce words (e.g., "world"), and so on. They also further entrench the superiority of native speakers, with only the hope that their number will continue to grow and perhaps your children will be among them.

In the spirit of "If you can't beat 'em, get a bigger club," I'm proposing an alternative. I won't even explain what follows except to say that the consonants are essentially English and the vowels the usual five found in most auxlangs. Read it out and follow the sound, not the spelling. (I've updated this so many times I hope it's truly current, but at least it'll give you some idea of what I'm up to.)

1. Da total at bifo hav wan lanwij plas da seim wad.

2. Taim dat da pipal du bigin go istan, dem notis da flat-ples in da Shinar lan; plas dem go risaidin da ples.

3. Dem tok ta ichada "Kamon! Wi mek da brik plas du kukin dem in faya!" Dem du yusin da brik insted rok plas da tari insted brik glu.

4. Dem tok ta ichada, "Kamon! Wi mek da siti plas da tawa, wich hav da hed in skai! Wi mek big wi neim gol wi no leita get skata tru da total at!"

5. Yawe go daun gol si da siti plas da tawa, wich da pipal mek.

6. Yawe tok, "Si! Dem bi wan pipal, plas dem hav wan lanwij, plas dem bi ebal du da hia tin! Foloen dis, ziro tin, wich dem du trai, bi tumach no-isi!

7. "Kamon! Wi go daun plas wi mek konfusin dem lanwij gol dem no du andastan ichada!"

8. Yawe du skata dem tru da total at, plas dem no kipon mek da siti.

9. Foloen dis, da ples get neim Babel, bikos Yawe mek konfusin da lanwij av da total at, plas auta dea ples Yawe du skata da pipal tru da total at.

I'll try to explain all this next time.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

English: Threat or Menace?

I had hoped to avoid the English Thread for a while--I've already partly written posts on worldlangs, literature, and so forth--but apparently it's keeping people up nights. English is everywhere, friends--upstairs, downstairs, and in milady's chamber. Probably in your undies, too. Go ahead and check; I won't watch.

Done? Good. Now take some deep breaths and consider some facts:

English is not the Antichrist. You aren't damned for speaking or learning it, though you may feel otherwise. It's just The Language right now, much as Latin was in the Middle Ages or French for a few centuries after that.

They weren't the Antichrist either.

It's not a good idea to try a frontal assault on English. There's an allegorical movie about the result of defying this principle, and you can watch several versions on YouTube. Stick with the original: it's honest. And remember that Godzilla is English, Bambi is Esperanto, and every other auxlang in the world is a flea or tick on Bambi's back. Get the picture?

The twin problems of English are its difficulty and its user base. "Difficulty" includes irregular forms and demented spelling. English was developed by people whose chief linguistic skill was illiteracy and whose chief talent was operating while intoxicated. The French and the Goidelic Celts, who had the same general characteristics, were no help at all, except in the drinking department.

"User base" refers to people who are currently advantaged by their knowledge, imperfect as it likely is, of English. They are not about to give up that advantage for the sake of the less fortunate.

But wait! There's more!

Unfortunately, several decades ago, a bunch of non-native speakers who hadn't quite learned English decided to pass on their questionable skills to the next generation, leading to native speakers of very odd forms of English: Chinglish, Hinglish, Don't-Touch-That-Thinglish--they all complicate matters further.

Depressed? Good: that's reality setting in. But there is also good news. Remember, a problem is just an opportunity that has turned bully and wants to beat you up. We'll look for the silver lining next time.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Achieving the Epiphany 3: Proving Superiority

This has two components, one easy, the other very difficult.

The easy one involves learnability, and as often happens, Esperanto is apparently the only auxlang with hard data in its favor, if only because it's large enough to attract study. Still, anyone familiar with other major auxlangs will probably find them easier to use (at least passively) than natlangs. Indeed, since most major auxlangs were designed for Outcome Neutrality, they allow not just (or primarily) the superficial ease of some natlangs, which are easy to learn at a basic level but nearly impossible to master (English being a case in point); rather, they allow true mastery: near-native fluency. That's a largely auxlang claim, and if you want to be an active user, writing prose or poetry or even just advertising copy, it should matter.

The second component is more intractable: having learned the auxlang, then what? Is it worth using? Jespersen gave a good response in An International Language:

An objection which is often raised against constructed languages is that they can never be as good as natural languages. It is true that our Interlanguage is not as rich as English, not as elegant as French, not as vigorous as German, not as beautiful as Italian, not as full of nuances as Russian, not as "homelike" as our mother-tongue. But note this well, that all these good qualities, which one appreciates and praises in the national languages, are found only when they are spoken or written by natives. And the Interlanguage may very well be richer than the English spoken by a Frenchman, more elegant than French as spoken by a Dane, more vigorous than the German of some Italians, more beautiful than the Italian of the English, more full of nuances than the Russian of Germans, and more homelike than my own tongue spoken by Russians. And as our language is an auxiliary language, it can only be compared fairly with natural languages as spoken by foreigners; and then neither Ido nor Novial need feel ashamed of itself.

I would add that you seldom get the full effect of a natlang even from most native speakers. For really optimal English you must go to a really good poet or prose writer--the elite of the elite. And auxlangs are the same way: not every Esperantist, Idist, etc., will produce language on a par with the auxlang's literary masters. So arguing from optimal use and users is misleading. As Jespersen says, it's non-native use we must consider, and I think the established auxlangs at least have proportionately more non-native masters than English, for example. I'll come back to this later.

This leaves primarily the question of technical jargon--legal and scientific terminology, for example. The legal language would be especially problematic; I'm not sure it's been settled properly for natlangs. Here Interlingua would probably have the advantage: it could largely adopt en bloc whatever was current. Esperanto and Occidental could probably catch up fairly quickly, while the Idists would have to threaten the Linguala Komitato with death by torture to get results in under a century. (No, I don't like the LK; it's the reification of nearly all that is wrong not so much with Ido proper as with its culture: top-down control instead of the regulated user-based kind found in Esperanto.)

Anyway, rant aside, as people begin to realize that auxlangs are easier to master than natlangs, the necessary vocabulary will begin to arise spontaneously. Lexical growth under pressure of external necessity can be very rapid, and ultimately lawyers proliferate faster than they can be humanely trapped and destroyed. They could generate their own solutions as usual.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Achieving the Epiphany 2: Practical Uses

Unsurprisingly, the main practical uses of auxlangs are linguistic. Two are relatively well known:

1. First Foreign Language. Esperanto, at least, (and perhaps other auxlangs) can be learned first to speed and ease language acquisition in general. It's a pity this hasn't been attested for other auxlangs, so far as I know, but then Esperanto's adjectival agreement and accusative marking should be especially helpful for those whose native language lacks such traits.

2. Introduction to "International Vocabulary." Not a strong point for Esperanto, but a long-standing strategy for mainstreaming Interlingua in Scandinavia in particular. Instead of learning isolated roots, students can learn roots in a more organic, natural context. This could also be done with Occidental and, to a lesser extent, Lingua Franca Nova. For that matter, Sambahsa could be used for learning western roots in general (and some non-western ones, too), though perhaps at a higher level of abstraction than a beginner would find useful.

There are other possibilities as well. I would suggest Ido for people wanting to learn about linguistic precision--not as jarring as Loglan, for example.

Dave MacLeod has occasionally advocated starting a news site in Occidental or Interlingua. I think (cynically) that a celebrity-gossip site would do better, but using an at-sight language for some kind of information clearinghouse is probably a good idea.

It might also be useful to provide a translation of a European or Latin-American site in Interlingua or Occidental. Properly set up, it will draw some visitors via search engines, and the attention could be useful--so long as copyrights are respected. If the auxlang version is a faithful copy of the original, I doubt there will be much trouble.

What matters in any case is to get the word out--and remember, even if the auxlang that gets the initial publicity isn't your favorite, the improvement in general attitude toward auxlangs will help your favorite. As I've pointed out at various times, anyone who looks up Esperanto on Wikipedia will find plenty of references to other auxlangs too.

Next up, we'll look at the complex issue of proving auxlang superiority.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Achieving the Epiphany 1: From Fake to Real

In a way, this should be Step Three, not Step One, because the other two steps--demonstrating practical uses and interlinguistic superiority--will lend "realness" to auxlangs. But this is actually the first step, because it is not rational but imaginative. Since the objection isn't rational, the first counterstrike shouldn't be rational either. You can't reason bigotry away, at least initially; you must appeal to the moral imagination--even wake it up--before all else. The other two steps need careful scientific documentation; this requires a human-interest approach.

Today's Amazing Free Clue: You have to make people cry before you can make them think.

1. Choose your representatives carefully. (And read this carefully!) I've said more than once that in order to succeed at present, an auxlang must be either "at sight" (intelligible to many people without prior study) or Esperanto. That's because these two groups are fairly credible at a gut level--Esperanto because of its track record, at-sight auxlangs because they are immediately usable. Esperanto is the weaker auxlang, because its credibility must be argued for, but it can be introduced at an early stage anyway. It's probably better to lead with an established auxlang such as Interlingua, Occidental, or perhaps Lingua Franca Nova, though a really intelligible upstart could also be useful.

2. Use niches cautiously. Those familiar with my views may think this a reversal. It isn't; it's a tweak of an earlier position and a corollary of the first item. The point is, while it's okay to tap in to successful artlangs, there must be a certain precision involved. Dave MacLeod has suggested setting up a clearinghouse for information about Na'vi in an auxlang, for example, and the idea is sound: it would present a useful service to people already inclined to accept the validity of auxlangs and help establish auxlang viability (Step Two). But it doesn't risk identification with an artlang, which could be fatal: "Oh, that's just one of those fake languages the geeks play with." Similarly, it's good to expose people to auxlangs in fiction (often done with Esperanto), but we must be careful to avoid the "just another Klingon" feel, which could undermine the sense of reality we want.

3. Go visceral. The more we appeal to fundamental human experience, the stronger our case. For example, I have advocated writing a book about people brought together romantically by an auxlang, especially if it was their only shared language. (The auxlang will most likely be Esperanto in this case, though there may be instances where Interlingua has a good anecdote.) It's hard to dismiss a language as fake if it's the courting language of real couples. This could also help bridge the gender gap: auxlangers are more often male than female, just as students of Klingon are. This is also why I advocate short story translations that are strongly emotional: I often use "The Selfish Giant" because it's short and very moving. You can't be moved by a story in an auxlang--whether the emotion is awe, romance, horror, or whatever else--and then easily dismiss the auxlang as fake. Your gut reaction will claim otherwise. I've also advocated using auxlang translations of Christmas carols, because Christmas has strong and usually positive associations. "Amazing Grace" and (if you're dealing with people not hostile to the veneration of Mary) "Ave Maria" can also be useful.

This is just a starting point, but implementing these steps will bring auxlangs to life for quite a few people--and they are all practical.

Next we'll look at practical uses for auxlangs.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Auxlang Epiphany

Yes, it's the post everyone at Auxlang knew would turn up sooner or later.

The problem is one of perception: though it is possible to become fluent in an auxlang more quickly and easily than in a natlang, there is still great resistance to auxlangs. I've already mentioned the persistent stories about auxlangs (usually Esperanto) failing in practice. Then there's the dismissal of auxlang-learners as fanboys--the sort who learn Klingon or Na'vi while blogging in their pajamas.

In any case, auxlangs are fake languages. Everyone Knows This. Even linguists, who ought to be more objective, hardly acknowledge Esperanto as a language, despite its credentials. The others are definitely beyond the pale, which is no doubt why Gode and company insisted that Interlingua was not constructed so much as revealed: it had been latent in the source languages all the time. You see, Gode himself didn't believe that it was truly possible to create a language, the evidence of Esperanto notwithstanding.

The more sophisticated argument is that auxlangs are unnecessary; English does the job just fine--at least until you try reading the manual for your latest gadget or invoke tech support. You can quickly learn enough of some languages to get by, and English is one of them. But even reading a newspaper article or novel--or a comic book, for that matter!--will probably overwhelm you until you've spent enough time and effort to thoroughly master an auxlang. Or two or three.

Be that as it may, there are a lot of things that are sensible failures. For example, most people who think about the matter will acknowledge the superiority of Dvorak keyboards, but QWERTY remains the standard.

Auxlangs are in the same position. (Actually worse, since Dvorak isn't rejected as a "fake" keyboard.)

So we need to level the playing field, which means

1. Changing the popular perception of auxlangs as "fake" languages

2. Demonstrating practical uses for auxlangs

3. Demonstrating the superiority of auxlangs as interlanguages.

Let's take these one at a time as part of a practical strategy for ushering in the Auxlang Epiphany. Note that these are cooperative points: it's pointless to argue the comparative merits of this or that auxlang until we have gained a hearing in the first place, so gaining that hearing should be our first concern. We should commit to a truce in the meantime.

Anyway--next up: Changing from "fake" to real.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why I reject the Onelang View: 4 - Conclusions

For now, we have the following observations:

1. Our target demographic is relatively small, educated, and (incidentally) westernized. The last point is incidental and will likely change, but for now it provides a useful focus, not only by simplifying the design task but making our auxlangs mutually intelligible for the most part.

2. This means we can use Outcome Neutrality as our model, allowing greater ease of learning for the comparatively few who actually need an auxlang (or at least want it enough to learn it).

3. But even Outcome Neutrality doesn't work for everybody. There are Eternaj Komencantoj for every project, and they can't practically be made to learn any one auxlang.

4. However, if multiple auxlangs are allowed, most people can probably find one that works for them.

5. The mutual intelligibility already mentioned means that even if you have trouble with one or two auxlangs, you can probably still understand them. So if you do well in an auxlang the other guy just can't master (and vice versa), you can still each use your preferred auxlang and be understood--and with less overall effort than achieving any real fluency in a natlang.

Thus it's possible to master one or two common auxlangs and just passively understand the rest: a multiple-auxlang solution.

On the other hand, Eternaj Komencantoj will doom the Onelang idea, because although they are a minority, they feed a common meme: Auxlangs Don't Work.

Think about it: we've heard that at Esperanto Kongresoj (or whatever), participants can't communicate and eventually have to use English (French, whatever, but usually English) like everybody else. We have been told that Volapükists couldn't really speak their auxlang either, and that too is a lie.

But Eternaj Komencantoj furnish real anecdotal evidence for the claim, so they are far more important than their numbers justify. If any auxlang does at all well, I guarantee that EKs will appear in the news to debunk it. But if there are several auxlangs, sincere EKs (not those with an axe to grind) can be challenged to try one of the others. That will probably do the trick, and a converted EK can be damning to critics.

All this requires a willingness to consider auxlangs seriously, however, which leads where everyone familiar with my thinking knew it would: the Auxlang Epiphany, also known as the next post.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why I Reject the Onelang View 3: Do You Need an Auxlang?

Believe it or not, the answer will frequently be "no." Technically speaking, I don't need one--my native language happens to work well internationally, but I don't need that aspect of it. Neither do many others. You probably don't need an auxlang unless you're in reasonably constant contact with people who speak another language--or more likely, several different languages.

Imagine that I'm an international businessman who knows only English. Imagine further that English is effectively unknown outside of the anglosphere. That limits me to the US (where I already live), Canada, Britain, and Australia (and several smaller spots, yes). Not a bad field. I can add Central and South America by learning a little Spanish--not even that much, really, because I probably will need a lawyer to handle contracts even in English. So I can learn some scripts for topics of interest. For anything more advanced, I can use an interpreter. I don't need an auxlang for this, because my attempt to learn and use Spanish will have an ingratiating effect that learning an auxlang won't.

Or I could be a scholar. I would need a reading knowledge of a few languages, perhaps, and if I absolutely must travel, again a few phrasebook scripts will probably do. An auxlang won't be helpful for antiquarian research such as patristics; it will only enable all my contemporary sources to be in the auxlang--and the odds are I already have more articles, studies, even mere abstracts than I can get through.

And this ignores the global reach of English.

So who does need an auxlang?

The main argument for auxlang use is efficiency: eliminate multiple translations of bureaucratic byproducts. That makes the primary target audience international organizations of whatever kind, and few people (as a percentage of the general population) are in such groups. For other people, it would be mostly helpful, not necessary. Tourists, scholars, and jet-setting businessmen are likewise small groups.

In other words, auxlangs are the province of a kind of elite--people unusually well-educated and (relatively) affluent. Classical auxlangs recognized this, which is why they leveraged knowledge of "civilized" languages such as Latin and French (and eventually, grudgingly, English). This has the valuable effect of giving them a certain commonality: if you've learned Esperanto or Ido on the one hand and Occidental or Interlingua on the other, you can probably read any western auxlang (or westlang) with little or no study.

Next I'll consider what all this means.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why I Reject the Onelang View: 2 - Eternaj Komencantoj

Last time I observed that neutrality doesn't work. Even if Initial Neutrality does work by leveling the field, it does so by making the learning task too hard in general, which isn't good. (I've seen projects that were deliberately made unnecessarily hard for the sake of neutrality.) Outcome Neutrality is good in theory, but people vary, so what works for some doesn't work for others.

This leads us to the Eterna Komencanto or Eternal Beginner. Though most noticeable among Esperantists (simply because there are more of them), such people can be found in all auxlangs large enough to be subject to the laws of probability. And even a little reflection shows that the phenomenon is even more common among natlang learners.

Think about it: we've all seen (even perhaps been) the one who just doesn't get some language. I think I first personally witnessed it in high-school French, though there were indicative incidents in Spanish class as well. The intensity of the condition ranges from lack of confidence for active use to total inability to learn, though passive ability is generally good enough to understand at least the gist of a text.

Someone will no doubt object that anyone can learn any language, if it's properly taught. That's technically true. But there's a difference between technicality and practicality: the only reason some people know even their native language is from years of uninterrupted immersion as children--an extreme measure impractical for most adults, especially if the language has relatively few speakers. In theory, any auxlang could be forced on everyone. In practice, people will only willingly learn an auxlang whose difficulty does not exceed their interest, so an auxlang must be incredibly easy or incredibly interesting. And since interest requires either practicality (and thus a large user base that will not appear out of nowhere overnight) or a personal appeal that will be present for some people but not for others, it's a shaky rationale anyway.

Given all this, we may ask where the global user base for any given auxlang will come from. Most projects I've seen simply assume that users will appear; the projects are often ill-suited to attracting users strongly enough to invest the time and effort to master the auxlang. "Hey, that's clever" isn't enough.

And consider that many people, though strongly motivated to learn some natlang, barely achieve intelligibility. English has plenty of Eternaj Komencantoj, probably more than there are Esperantists of any kind.

The conclusion? Some people will always be left out of any given auxlang, but it won't be quite the same group for all auxlangs taken as a whole. This will normally be considered unacceptable, but I'll argue next that it's completely acceptable once we drop the Onelang idea of a single auxlang for everyone.

Why I Reject the Onelang View: 1-Neutrality

I've tried to explain this idea several times, with little or no success. But I think I've found a better explanation, so I'll try again.

To begin with, "neutrality" is variously defined these days. It's becoming common to define it in terms of what I call "initial neutrality," not the classical "outcome neutrality." So let's look at those two views:

Initial Neutrality. Everyone starts out relatively even in terms of how familiar the auxlang seems to them or how it represents their language compared to other languages.

Outcome Neutrality. Regardless of the auxlang's sources and structure, learners are likely to attain near-native fluency in roughly the same time, and more quickly and easily than they could achieve such fluency in a natlang.

I tend toward Outcome Neutrality: I don't care about an auxlang's sources, just about how quickly and easily I can achieve near-native fluency. I've encountered stories of people who couldn't communicate confidently in any but their native language--and some auxlang. Struggling with a non-native language made them seem inarticulate, but in their own language and auxlang they were eloquent.

The problem is that neutrality (by any definition) varies by individual, and unlike the Initial Neutrality people, I see no way of avoiding this problem: some people will never achieve near-native fluency in certain languages. In Esperanto, such people are called "Eternaj Komencantoj," and they form the next part of the argument.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Curse of Datuval

Not coming soon, I hope, to a theater near any of us. As this is the Auxlang Lab, I'll be exploring design issues and offering advice to designers and learners. (I've already done a bit of this.) This post is about a common and usually fatal temptation designers face.

I'll probably go into the issues involved in Volapük's demise later, but part of the problem was Schleyer's insistence on "owning" the language. He was the "Datuval"--the Creator, and he began to confuse himself, I think, with the other Creator mentioned in Genesis. You'd think a priest would know better.

Anyway, one of the warning signs of Datuval Disease is doing your level best to restrict access to your project. Serious designers post info in hypertext, plain text, or other easily-accessible format. The control freaks lock it in secured PDFs so that no one can defile their creation.

This is a bad idea on several levels. For one thing, you shouldn't make it hard for potential learners to access your material, and they may find it useful to tweak your presentation. You may find it useful, too. Never turn down free assistance, especially when there's a good chance it will be competent--and modern early adopters often are competent in some relevant area.

Here's how you can set up your auxlang on a Datuval-free basis: start a group on Yahoo! and store your basic files (grammar, vocabulary, and sample texts) there in some user-friendly format--probably hypertext, Word, RTF, or plain text. I'll explain in a later post where to go from there.

Anyway, today's Amazing Free Clue: once you've released your auxlang, it's no longer yours; it belongs to the users. It's free to evolve independently of your wishes. It may even diverge so sharply that, in effect, your project dies or becomes dormant and something else rises from the ashes. Them's the breaks, as the saying goes. Horrible as that thought may seem, you have to release your auxlang if it is to truly be an auxlang. Otherwise you should call it an artlang and keep it to yourself. It will be a relief to all of us.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Levels of maturity

I'm talking about linguistic maturity, here. Auxlang users may sit around all day wearing pajamas and picking their nose for all I care. I'm trying to gauge reasonable literary projects for the better-known auxlangs and their learners. Essentially, the breakdown will be something like this:

New user/auxlang: anecdotes, proverbs, etc. (a paragraph or so)

Stable beginner (basic grammar/vocabulary, nothing fancy): flash fiction (a page or two)

Intermediate (moving beyond basics into optional gimmicks): short stories and novellas (about 10-100 pages; may include abbreviated novels)

Mature (advanced gimmicks generally well established: odd word order, etc.): novels without major linguistic complications (not Tom Sawyer, for example)

Advanced (can handle most anything)

Now let's get controversial:

Esperanto: Mature to advanced. Active users (verkistoj) are often "mature."

Ido: Intermediate to mature. Primary problem is slow lexical growth--not a linguistic failing but a flaw in Idist culture. Theoretically resolvable.

Occidental: Intermediate. This is a user-base problem; Occ is capable of advanced usage, but it lacks coherency and user base.

Interlingua: Mature to advanced. The Latin/Romance schism is a problem, but it can also be harnessed for literary purposes.

Lingua Franca Nova: Intermediate at best. Syntactic issues and user-base problems.

Lingwa de Planeta: Stable beginner (more or less) working toward intermediate status.

Sambahsa: Anomalous; the language itself is probably advanced, but the user base (apart from Dr. Olivier Simon himself) is both small and ill-equipped. This puts it on a par with some revival projects, such as Idiom Neutral, but with a better corpus.

So if you're interested in producing novels (original or translated), your best bets are Esperanto and Interlingua, though Ido and perhaps Occidental are also worth considering. If you'd rather pioneer with shorter works, try one of the less mature auxlangs.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dracula Lite

Not sunlight, of course. No, the solution is to abridge and simplify the sucker.

Holy water, Batman! Wouldn't that adulterate him? It sounds indecent!

No need to cast aspersions; the Count has been (mal)adapted countless times in English alone. Once more--even once per major auxlang--should do no harm. And much of the story could be left intact, including most of the main characters' dialog. This isn't Tom Sawyer, which I believe has been translated into Esperanto, and whose dialect is a major part of the story. Most of the difficult bits of Dracula could be summarized easily enough.

There would even be a useful long-term effect: when the auxlang and its user base have matured enough for the complete novel, the abridgement could be used as a basis, so only the summarized bits would need to be translated. The rest could just be tweaked a bit.

In any case, this sort of thing has already been done. One of the first long Interlingua texts I encountered online was an abridgement of Pilgrim's Progress (translated by Paolo Castellina), and there's a short version of Robinson Crusoe on the Mondlango site.

Even so, this is at least an intermediate-level project--the sort of thing suitable to Ido and Occ, for example. (As already noted, Eo and Interlingua could manage an actual translation.) Other auxlangs could technically manage it--I suspect Sambahsa could, for example--but they don't have the user base to justify it.

Next time I'll try to explain the levels of development for various auxlangs.

Not Bloody Likely: Translating Dracula

One of the blogs I follow is Dave MacLeod's Page F30, which is mostly about languages (including auxlangs) and astronomy. He also shows up on Auxlang a lot and isn't locked in to just one auxlang. At various points he has advocated Dracula as a translation project.

No. Let's stake this idea here and now.

* Length. Seriously, even in an at-sight auxlang, Dracula is a bit long. Serializing would help somewhat, but it's an actual novel (and nineteenth century, too), which means it has pacing appropriate for fluent readers. If you're familiar with the story, there's building tension in the first chapter that works really well, especially if you somehow don't know what Dracula is. But it would be tedious for a learner.

* Vocabulary. This, as they say on Monty Python, is the cruncher--or one of them, anyway. The terminological traps are legion: geographical fine points to begin with, but also architectural, medical, and nautical jargon. There are also a lot of letters, including period business correspondence. Ouch. Right off hand, I'd say that the only auxlangs I'd have any chance of translating Dracula into would be Esperanto and Interlingua, with a slight possibility of Occidental. In Eo I could work around the lexical problems by compounding, which is also a possibility for Occ. For Interlingua, I could use some existing translations into Romance languages as guides. (I couldn't translate Dracula into Spanish or French very well, either: I haven't the specialized vocabulary and the result would sound stilted.)

* Basilect/dialect issues. This is almost Vocabulary II: The Sequel, but there's more to it. Once Drac comes to Britain, we begin running into some amusing bits of dialect and basilect:

"I'm afraid, my deary, that I must have shocked you by all the wicked things I've been sayin' about the dead, and such like, for weeks past, but I didn't mean them, and I want ye to remember that when I'm gone. We aud folks that be daffled, and with one foot abaft the krok-hooal, don't altogether like to think of it, and we don't want to feel scart of it, and that's why I've took to makin' light of it, so that I'd cheer up my own heart a bit. ..."

Translate that (preserving the feel!) if you can.

But the other problem is that this would be dangerous for anything but a mature auxlang. How do you render "I've took to makin' light of it"? Perhaps (in Eo) "Mi 'as ade ma'gravigi tion"? This is nonstandard usage, friends, and that should be reflected in the translation. I might even drop the accusative. But beginners, especially in a young auxlang, should not be confronted with nonstandard usage: they're trying to get a grip on the standard language. (For this reason, I wouldn't use the English original with people learning English, either.)

This leaves an obvious alternative, however. I'll turn to that next.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Auxlang maturity and literature

Part of the reason I've been so long in posting is my typical obsessive-compulsive problem with wanting to structure my posts. This is, however, a blog, so a "stream of consciousness" approach is eminently defensible.

As a writer and amateur literateur, I can understand the temptation to dabble in Great Projects of composition or translation in an auxlang. It's a bad idea, though. And curiously, the linguistic maturity of both auxlang and user have the same effect: younger means smaller.

The upshot is that new users and auxlangs should stick with short projects--probably just a paragraph or so. An auxlang designer may want to try something longer as a proof the auxlang works, but basically only a more advanced learner will bother reading anything over a page or so. A new auxlang has no such learners except the designer, so it's pointless to work on anything long at first.

At-sight projects skew this slightly: the less at-sight readable your project, the shorter the early texts should be. On the other hand, an at-sight project can have longer texts: Gode's Dece Contos in Interlingua are fairly reasonable both as writing and reading exercises.

Now, all this goes against the grain for newbies. "It's so easy, I bet I could do a novel!" No. Novels have all kinds of problems, even if you're just translating. Stick with short stories--the shorter the better. Otherwise you'll get a few chapters in, run into more and more difficulties, and give up.

(For readers, short chapters or sections can make even a novel seem less daunting; I've seen this sort of thing done with longer short stories and novellas on certain blogs. But the auxlang has generally been "at sight.")

What are the advantages of shorter pieces?

* Easier for writer and reader.

* Allows more variety. A novel will generally stick with a genre and setting (place and time); short pieces can cover a wider range, giving examples of numerous types of texts. How do you say, "Once upon a time"? Cliché phrases are actually useful for learners, and they only become a problem through overuse, which won't be an issue at first.

* Less likely to contain needless difficulties. I'll explain this next with a critique of Dracula as a translation project.